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tv   The Communicators  CSPAN  November 19, 2011 6:30pm-7:00pm EST

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overseas alhurra tv and radio sawa. >> last week, we talked about d.o.a. this week, we talked brian conniff. first of all, what is the mission? >> it is to broadcast accurate news and information and news about america that dispelled
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some of the distortion that exists out there. we are funded by the u.s. government. we are not the government's mouthpiece. we are not a propaganda organization. we use a variety of different programs to accomplish our objectives. is tv.a u radio sawa is radio. >> what is your budget and where are you based? >> the combined budget is $100 million. this is the combined budget of two television stations. alhurra channel addresses 22 countries throughout the arabic speaking middle east. there is being alhurra -- is the alhurra iraq radio station.
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we have a robust web site and a burgeoning social media organization. we consider ourselves to the multimedia. that is the direction we want to go in. >> what is your reach? >> it depends on how you define your reach. we currently reach with alhurra, about 26 american -- 26 million adults. that is a comparable number to the weekly number for npr is a point of comparison. radio sawa reaches approximately 12 million people. we have a combined total of
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about 35 million people watching either one of the two television or radio station's weekly. >> let's talk about -- one of the two television or radio stations weekly. >> let's talk about the arab spring. first let's look at some video. [speaking in arabic] >> that was from january 2011 in cairo. what are we watching here? >> this is a show meeting "today." it is a magazine show similar to
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the today show in this country. there were clashes in the studio between government and the demonstrators. it became quite violent. there were 26 or 27 guests and a few policemen. in the midst of this demonstration, the police- security apparatus stormed into our building, came into our studio while we were on the air and our anchor was broadcasting an interview. they came in and they were searching for protesters and demonstrators. they pulled the plug as they left and took us off of the air. >> there were definitely risks that journalists were facing.
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nine of control did you have on the ground? -- what kind of control did you have on the ground? >> we were as large as the government would allow us. the mubarak regime had we should shins on foreign media. that was something that we played a cat and mouse game with. we had a studio at that time. we had been hoping that the day would come where you would have the kind of development and movement toward democracy. we were well positioned in the cairo at that point in time. we have a news bureau there in addition to the 80 people. in other countries, it varies. in libya, we had a few people because they would not allow us to have anybody.
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they would not let us have correspondents there. we had to be innovative in finding ways to look for locations. yemen is difficult, too. we have a couple of people there. they have clamped down on the way the packages are transmitted out. it is a difficult environment. in the 25 january revolution, we had a similar situation. two correspondents on the air. security forces took them off of the air and threatened their lives. people were jumping off of the building onto the next building to escape the thugs. it has been a dangerous environment. libya has been a dangerous environment to operate. we had a radio correspondent
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that accompanied the rebels as they made their march forward. it has been an exciting time for us. it is one of the reasons we were created, for the day these events have taken place. when the organizations were created, it was the darkest day of the iraq war. >> from everything i have read, it was a reaction to other arabic news channels like al jazeera. since then, the brand of al jazeera has been seen differently in the united states. how would you differentiate radio sawa and alhurra from the al jazeera message? >> you made a comment about the change in perception about al
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jazeera. it is primarily the english channel. al jazeera arabic and al jazeera english are editorially managed separately. i do not know if one has anything to do with the other. the media environment has changed drastically over the last year or so. what used to be state-controlled media -- in some cases there is no control. media companies are cropping up over night. a clustered environment has become more filled with new channels. most of it is probably not high editorial quality. we think we have a solid role. alhurra, in addition to
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practicing good journalism, it has a role to describe america. american culture is grossly misunderstood in the middle east. that is one of the things we try to do. al jazeera is not interested in doing that. bbc is not interested in doing that. there are so many arabic stations in the middle east. they are not interested in explaining america. giving people that accurate information about america -- it is no secret that america's foreign policy is criticized in the region. we explained how it happened. how is debated. we present different sides of the story. people want that. they do not just want to know what the official press release
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from the state department is. how did this come about? how did secretary clinton asked to go in front of a house committee and answer questions. that is a fascinating concept -- the separation of branches of government like that. part of our mission is to explain the american democratic show. >> how do you deal with the topic of israel and the palestinian territory? you know your audience is going to be critical of what the american policy is? . do you carry any of this criticism in your broadcast. >> we covered it in a journalistic sound way. as you can imagine, a lot of the media and arab world does not cover israel in a full, balanced
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way. as your question indicates, when they see us do that, we are criticized in the middle east. that is journalism. we have to show both sides. we have had some successes. we have had cases where we have had an israeli guest. we had an iranian guest. i am not sure they knew it was happening. the plug was pulled. we have had people who traditionally do not want to debate issues with an israeli guest. we get them together and it has been successful. the knee-jerk reaction is, why are you coming to israel? -- why are you covering israel? when people hear the whole story, they appreciate it.
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people keep coming back. they keep watching the show. our audience has held firm at 26,000,0043 or four years. our competitors -- at 26 million for 3 or 4 years. >> as the arab spring change to your stations at all? >> we talked about cairo and some other places. we were ready. now we have been sitting down and thinking, what kind of information do the people want and need. we are scrapping old programs. we are developing new programs. we are developing a reality show that follows two young people in
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the egyptian revolution as the process goes forward, hopefully, and to democracy. yes, our programs is reflecting the events of the american spring. >> did the arab spring increase your viewership? >> i think it did. it created a lot the interest in an objective point of view. in each one of these countries where these events happened, they have been covered differently by different stations because of their political alliances or historical affiliations and so forth. people quickly realize that we do not have those influences. we journalistic cover these events without these other
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encumbrances. we got a lot of e-mail and facebook postings that said, we value your independence. we doubt you your objectivity. at times, during the egyptian revolution when the administration here was trying to decide to support or not support mubarak, we were not reflecting that. we were not supporting their position. we were telling it straight. i was in cairo a few months ago. they said, that when i knew you were independent. you were not there just supporting mubarak. the perception was that america was supporting mubarak. we were telling both sides of the store. they expected the al jazeera position. getting both sides from us, they
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really appreciate it back -- appreciated that. >> what about the post-gaddafi process? are you able to get in there now? >> good question. it is pretty chaotic in egypt right now. i talked to the minister there. regardless of what he tells you , it is hard to tell. the lack of regulation is playing to our advantage. we just started an fm in ben
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ghazi. we are pursuing one in tunisia. that would never act happened before. i have been tried to start one in cairo four years. i got the same answer which was, we will have to wait and see. it in bolden's our staff to be more entrepreneurial. it is a great opportunity for us as a journalistic organization and for people -- in the region. >> this is c-span's " program.ators" >> will alhurra keep it separate
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channels in iraq after the troops leave? >> we think there needs to be an american boys -- american voice ther. e. it is part of the local scene. we have big government spokesperson calling us up and say, can i go on today. we cover local issues. we have a lot of correspondence. we are seen as the credible broadcast. we have been even broadcast at 9:00. it is picked up in the press. there have been stories told to me by our correspondent.
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the iraq channel has a larger percentage than the rest of the channel. it is the primary source of information in iraq. it plays a slightly different role. >> are you required to present the official government position on issues in iraq and across the middle east? >> there is no requirement. our purpose, our mission is to describe, journalistically, the dance of the day -- the events of the day. that is why we exist. people want to know what is the american position.
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they want it explained. they want to know what it is unified. it is not a requirement in that legislative sense. but that is why we exist, to give people information that they want and information in an way they can rely on. >> alhurra has come under fire in the past for employing a top executives that did not know arabic or were not familiar with arabic media. alhurra has a difficult path. how do you find your talent and make sure they do not fall on either side of that tricky path? >> recruitment is a difficult issue. we do not pay the kind of salaries our competitors can pay out there. they probably know some of the channels that will be started in the next year.
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they have already come and pay us the greatest compliment. they have hired away some of our employees. they are paying more money. you are right. in the early going, there were some editorial lapses. the station and was rushed on the air in the middle of the iraq war. in hindsight, it was that the best time to launch in terms of dealing with some of these issues. since those lapses, we have worked hard to hire the right people, trained them. we brought in the university of missouri school of journalism to help explain our journalism. we have written our code of ethics. we have come up with new editorial procedures and controls so that some of those
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problems will not occur again. if you react to a problem and build a structure to keep this from happening again, that goes a long way. >> in 2010, the foreign relations committee came out with a report talking about alhurra. this is what they had to say. or greater resources must be devoted to marketing or promotion or different programming changes must be enacted. should this fail to improve the overall the or ship level, policy makers will have to decide if continuing -- or the viewer ship level, policy makers will have to decide a continuing is a good mission idea. >> when we conduct research,
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they generally use nielsen or a reputable company. they will find that it is a crowded marketplace. we have been doing as much as we can to set aside whatever we can for promotion. if they do not know you exist, they will not what you. we have retire some good people lately -- we have hired some good people lately who will take the little money we have and make the most of its. . social media has created a whole new opportunity to bring in an audience that has never seen you on television, but will watch you on facebook or you do. -- or youtube. one packet we put on the air had
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100,000 views in two days. i agree with the sentiments of the be poured. i think we have equality -- i agree with the sentiments. >> should americans be a allowed to watch alhurra. there is a law that prevents d.o.a. or any of the other u.s. funded services from broadcasting here. they can watch al jazeera. there is a whole slew of arabic language channels. i do not see why we could not be on it. >> the broadcasting board of governors is in the process of restructuring media organizations, maybe
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centralizing them. they are talking about cnn being behind all of them. how are those moves like we do alhurra of that? -- likely to affect alhurra? guest >> with minor of sex -- with minor exceptions, we are dominant organization in television. during the arab spring and other news events, we shared our products. we make our correspondence available for interviews. we describe what is happening. it leverages resources collectively to a larger audience. there is more we can do.
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i am in favor of trying to get as many eyeballs on our product as we can. >> one of the strengths the week-old war was the secret listeners. does alhurra have a secret audience out there? >> i think they do. i have seen pictures. whenever there is any event, when president obama gives a speech, ap and other services will show pictures of people in a coffee shop watching president obama. there were a number of them that came out in the gaza. i did not know they were being taken. if you went down the street and ask most of those people is they watch alhurra, they would say no.
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i think there is a secret audience. it is the reason that was brought up earlier. it is an american-funded channel. >> social media is promoting the channels. how much do you use social media to get the news out? that is with the chairman of the bbc is talking about. >> the entire board has been a huge component of social media. they brought in the technical resources, know how. we have probably hired aid or nine people in the last few years to do this -- 8 or 9 people to do this in the last few years. we are constantly getting 100,000 hits on the youtube video. we are getting interesting
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discussions on facebook. we are trying to go to the next level to use content from viewers. in the media -- in the middle east, there is not a history. people who have not had a voice are hungry to have a voice. that is our next step. that is what we are working on. that is our future. it gets us into new demographics that are currently not strong. viewerss channel are middle-aged males. that is not the future of the middle east. 75% are in hundred and 34. it is a great opportunity to
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leverage a whole new all -- a new audience. >> alhurra and radio sawa were founded during the bush administration. do you find the level of support in the obama administration to be the same? >> it is essentially the same. the support comes the way the appropriations come. this administration has stayed at the same levels will be prior levels. there has been no difference. historically, international events have not been influential. we would like to have president obama come on our air. we are not holding it against him. we have had people in the white house and people in the industry come on. we have the state department on
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all the time. we have had secretary clinton on numerous times. they treat us like any other organization. i do not want special favors. if i get special favors, we will lose audience. i want to our and our credibility. >> brian conniff runs alhurra sand radio sawa/ . >> former white house chief of staff, rahm emanuel will be the key note speaker at the -- live coverage tonight at 8:30 p.m. eastern. p.m. eastern.

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